Cover Story

Communities for safer cities

May 24, 2015 |



We say, “Safety first” and the first aim of all development efforts is perhaps the “safety” of the human being. But how far does this matter have any signifi cance as far as the lives of the Nepali people is concerned is still to be investigated. There is no doubt that the most responsible entity in the chain of safety providers is the Central Government. But we have never seen a Safety Policy issued by the Government. Nor is there a defi ned agency put in charge of ensuring safer life for the public in urban and rural areas of Nepal.

The most recent Three Year Plan made public by the National Planning Commission did not contain a single word on “safety”. The budget speech of 2009-10 contained a single sentence: “A code of conduct will be developed and enforced so as to make all State mechanisms, including the administration and the security agencies, impartial and accountable in order to guarantee safety and security to the people”. But we are not sure what particular measures have been taken to enhance the safety situation of the country at large and its urban cities–where the population density is high and safety concerns are great–in particular. Surely, the Government must be working towards establishing a national safety agency that might be charged with the responsibility of implementing and monitoring safety issues in all walks of life.

Community leadership

It is striking that despite awareness and knowledge, our society still does not show real concern, much less act, until disaster occurs.The health services, for instance, we begun in Nepal when the then-royal family was affected. Similarly, roads were first extended in the city so that the horse carts of the aristocrats could ply on them, piped water began flowing with the Bir Dhara of 1895 and electricity was generated with 1930’s Chandra Jyoti. Such examples are countless. The backlog created by the lack of effective community leadership continues to this day although three-quarters of a century have passed since the introduction of democratic practice in the country.

Safety as a subject of the community should naturally be a community concern. The responsibility for it should lie in the community itself. But everybody’s job is nobody’s job and the big question now is how to throw this vicious circle of “No leadership–No Safety” off its own track. Maybe this is the right time, when the professional leaders such as the Society of Consulting Architectural and Engineering Firms (SCAEF), Nepal Engineers Association, Society of Nepalese Architects, Society of Structural Engineers of Nepal (SEANEP) and others should come forward and declare their policy on “safety” issues and how they would like to deliver the “Safety for Quality” and orient their deliveries towards the achieving the national and International Safety Policies.

The government’s role in creating disaster risk resilient cities cannot be undermined. However, a learned community with adequate awareness regarding disaster risk resilience and quality of life can positively impact any efforts made by the government.


Safety issues

Safety seems to be nobody’s business in Nepal. There have been numerous instances in which gross disregard to safety has put Nepalis in perilous situations and the country itself in a precarious position as far as its global image is concerned. Some examples would include the huge toll on life and property Nepal’s roads and airspace take each year. This has earned Nepal a very bad image internationally, resulting in the blacklisting of Nepali airlines to ensure they are restricted from entering European airspace. The experience of riding public vehicles itself is a dangerous one in this country. The electrocution of passengers on a moving bus after high tension electric wires touched the hood of the vehicle in Sindhupalchowk in December 2014 was an incident that could occur only in Nepal.

A 1990s report by Panaroma TV on the environmental impacts of dumping solid waste in the city centre resulted in reduced tourist visits that year, and caused several hotels in the Capital to be closed forever. The smelling toilets of our airports, hospitals, offi ces, institutions, and households are a constant health safety issue that has not been addressed so far and had embarrassingly become a trademark of the country.

The monuments erected in memory of those engineers and workers who lost their lives while working in the Kulekhani Hydropower Project only remind us of the blatant disregard to safety issues in Nepal. Furthermore, the many occupational health and safety hazards associated with the manufacturing industry, mining and agriculture go practically unreported here.

Safety issues related to natural and manmade disasters are well-known, and in the engineering terms these could be considered as a function of safety: The higher the safety consideration, the lesser the effect of the disaster.

A study by Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies, which maintains a widely used global loss data set, established that the economic costs of natural disasters have been increasingly steadily in the past 24 years. In the last two decades, natural disaster costs worldwide went from about 0 billion per year to almost twice that amount. This is a huge problem. The data available so far shows evidence of human vulnerability in the face of periodic extremes.


Munich Re and the United Nations further report that big disasters bring huge costs– the Kobe earthquake (1995), Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the Honshu earthquake (2011) are prime examples–but the overall trend in disaster costs proportional to GDP has remained fairly level since 1990. Apart from the property Loss, there is a human toll to disasters as well. In the 20th century, the human toll of disasters decreased dramatically, with a 92 percent reduction in deaths from the 1930s to the 2000s worldwide. Disasters are a serious matter, especially for countries like Nepal that are ill-prepared for them. A lot of people are living in places that are prone to disasters including volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, landslides and lightening. It’s a big challenge for the local and central governments of these regions to ensure safety in these areas. The dramatic reduction in human toll and property loss in the past century is a clear message that investments in safety adequately pay off.

Understanding safety

Safety is understood as a set of activities that seek to minimise or to eliminate hazardous conditions that can cause bodily injury or damage to property. Occupational Safety is concerned with risks in areas where people work: offices, manufacturing plants, farms, construction sites, and commercial and retail facilities. Public Safety is concerned with hazards in the home, in travel and recreation, and in other situations that do not fall within the scope of occupational safety. (Encyclopaedia Brittanica)

Nepali women working in kitchens suffer from Occupational Safety hazards from smoke emitted from stoves, potential gas cylinder blasts, stove bursts and pressure cooker bursts, electrical short circuits, dust and fume emission, fungus and dirt, causing multiple health hazards and severe injuries that sometimes prove fatal.

Several people have had their legs broken because of wrongly designed and constructed steps and staircases, lack of railings and parapets, the bad state of public road and open manholes. There have been numerous cases in which people have died through drowning in unprotected pits, trenches, and sand and clay mines. Workers in the cement plants suffer from blocked respiratory systems because of accumulation of dust in the lungs. Many lives have been lost in construction sites because of collapsed roofs or concrete slab, among other reasons.

These safety issues are all categorised as cases of violation or lack of consideration to multiple requirements of the Family of Building Codes, and particularly Safety Codes, and a lack of mechanism to enable peer review and periodic monitoring.

Family of building codes: Tools for enhancing quality of life

With the aim of enhancing safety and quality of life, various governments have issue a score of building codes, manuals and instructions generally known as the Family of Building Codes. The government The government’s role in creating disaster risk resilient cities cannot be undermined. However, a learned community with adequate awareness regarding disaster risk resilience and quality of life can positively impact any efforts made by the government 30 / SPACES FEBRUARY 2015 of Nepal, in this regard issued a set of Building Codes, 1994 known as the Nepal National Building Code (NNBC). The NNBC was partially updated and extended recently to extend its scope. The current NNBC basically covers structural aspects including earthquake resistant design, architectural design, electrical and sanitation and fire resistance requirements.

Need of the day

The need for the day is to take an initiative and act now. Encouraging local communities to monitor actions taken by the government and its various implementing agencies could be instrumental in helping create safer cities, as property owners could perform the important ‘watchdog role’. Institutional mechanisms that bridge the gap between the government and the communities are local governments such as our municipalities. It is the municipalities that the Safety Assurance Policy through implementation of municipality bylaws. Implementation of Municipality Bylaws

Municipalities aim to carry out a series of services to its citizens such as assuring better living condition for efficient and effective productivity, safety, security, comfort, reduced cost of living, among others, through the implementation of municipal bylaws. The conservation of a community’s characteristic identify and the unique setup of an area (as defined by vernacular aesthetics), clean environment, community participation, disaster resilient urban development, zero tolerance to accidents, theft and burglary, and advanced quality of life encourage pride in belonging to and living within a municipality.

Municipal bylaws are the tools with which the municipality can work for a smooth delivery of municipal services. These bylaws help municipalities deliver its services and fulfi l its objectives. Fundamentally, municipal bylaws should include provisions to comply with requirements of the safety, building codes and assurance of quality of life in municipal areas.

Community initiatives

The government’s role in creating disaster risk resilient cities cannot be undermined. However, a learned community with adequate awareness regarding disaster risk resilience and quality of life can positively impact any efforts made by the government. Nepali communities have reached a certain level as far as the community institutionalisation is concerned, through the establishment of community-based organisations (CBOs) such as Tole Sudhar communities, water and sanitation communities, education and environment committees, ward communities, women and youth groups and so on.

These CBOs can be instrumental in creating awareness and mobilising citizens for the effective implementation of building codes. The experience of the Lalitpur Municipality in terms of the implementation of Building Codes in 2003 was phenomenal. That single decision triggered a wave of creating awareness on Earthquake Safety Initiatives across the country with more municipalities joining the earthquake safety campaign.

Now the time has come to go ahead and apply the requirements of the family of Building Codes to help create pristine environments both within building premises and outside of them. These proceedings are very complex and not quite so easy to apply. Prerequisites such as proper identification of priorities and preferences need to be fulfilled before further steps are taken.

Priorities and preferences

Achieving the objective of safer cities requires identifying priorities and preferences. Does this include the widening of roads by demolishing ancient and historic urban settings without a planning guide, or preserving a common temple by twisting a road strip?

The dusty roads that have been created as a result of the unplanned widening of Kathmandu roads remain a glaring example of mismanagement of urban planning and road construction. The project has increased the vulnerability of buildings and structures along its newly widened roads. The belief that the town development plan should support the poorest sections of the population had covered the townscapes of Kathmandu and Lalitpur in slums and haphazard urban sprawl. Some of the areas inhabitable, lacking adequate solar exposure and water supply. There is a constant emission of dust and noise, the environment is unprotected, and sanitation is unhygienic. The high-rise buildings mushrooming all over Kathmandu strip residents of surrounding low-rise structures of some fundamental by creating huge earthquake hazards that are bound to have monumental impact.

We need to learn lessons from history. It is thus imperative we

identify certain priorities and preferences.Cultural, historic heritage sites and natural resources (nationals asset on which the country is built) need to be preserved. The implementation of a Disaster Risk Resilient Urban Development Plan (Land and Building Use, accessibility and connectivity) is mandatory, and an updating of building bylaws as a tool for control of urban development, land and building use, safety, and the enhancement of quality of life is necessary.

We also need to encourage community initiatives and consultation for local area development based on the local resources and specialties. Consultation, awareness building, information dissemination and capacity building through training of young generation and professionals are absolutely essential as well.

Safety must be our most urgent and common concern. For this we need to create social demand for Disaster Risk Resilient Safety Certification of various premises (hotels, conference venues, office buildings and residences) and infrastructure (bridges, water tanks, towers, antenna), which must be designed and constructed in compliacne with the requirements of the Family of Building Codes to fulfil the purposes for which they have been built and designed.

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